In May this year, I was fortunate enough to be invited by poet Ricardo de Ungria to be a foreign panellist on the second week of the 54th Silliman University National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete, the Philippines. The workshop is the oldest of its kind in Asia, and I cannot say strongly enough how much I enjoyed the experience, and how welcomed, taken care of and intellectually stimulated I felt while I was there. My co-panellists César Ruiz Aquino, Patricia Evangelista and Eliza Victoria also constantly impressed me with their knowledge, wit and humility.
There was one little episode, however, that discomfited me. During my one-week stay, apart from the daily workshops in which we discussed pieces written by the very talented poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction fellows, I also gave a lecture titled “Ghosts in the Machine: Photographs and Poems.” When I walked into the room in the Silliman University library where my talk was taking place, the first thing I noticed was the video cameras. I froze. I panicked. I then entreated Rina Fernandez and Philip Van Peel, staff at the English Department of the university, not to film the talk. They very kindly indulged my irrational request.
You see, I have a condition. I have a physical revulsion of video cameras when I know that I am their subject, target, victim. There have been a few rare exceptions, but as a general rule, the thought of another me captured on film and alive—talking, smiling, sulking, moving around and breathing—makes me nervous, frightens me even. I assume it must have something to do with movement and sound as I am more or less fine with having my photograph taken. But I find terrifying the thought of more Tammy Hos out there, on repeat, having escaped the frame, moving in secret, finding new audiences, talking in my voice but completely unable to hear my wishes. Do they know they are merely copies of me, inferior but forever younger? Do they know I want them deleted?
I have had this psychological inhibition for quite a while, and I have previously declined commercial opportunities when I was asked to talk in front of a camera. I have been flattered by the invitations and mildly tempted by the financial rewards. But thanks, no thanks. Other times, I have tried to avoid the camera, only to find it was avoiding me. Once at Hong Kong Baptist University, just before the start of a short story prize-giving ceremony (I was one of the three judges), I asked the technician not to film me while I was giving my short speech, only for him to retort that the video cameras were for the keynote speaker (emphasis his). I was more relieved than embarrassed. I relate this story often, not only to amuse others but to remind myself that I am not that important.
In his description of John Berger’s 1972 BBC miniseries Ways of Seeing, the critic Oliver Preston writes:
I prefer the pleasures of the moving image, not least of which is Berger himself: his wide eyes, his unerringly grave gestures of address, his haircut. […] In a favourite scene, a gaggle of schoolchildren crowd around an image of Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, speaking over one another, calling out their interpretations of the painting’s central figure. Berger, sitting among them, grave as ever, inclines his shaggy head and listens. (Paris Review)
I prefer the pleasures of the moving image too, but of others, not of myself.
I sometimes worry that my reluctance to be filmed could limit me in a world saturated with moving images, may stop people from inviting me to give lectures, talks, seminars or make public appearances. But then I remind myself not to get carried away, not to worry about problems that haven’t occurred yet, to keep things in perspective. The future’s not ours to see; video is for the keynote speaker.
A photograph, still, thankfully, of me from Dumaguete, listening to a question put to me by an audience member. My head leans a little forward. I am not grave at all. (Photograph by Sha’ianne Molas Lawas)
Tammy Ho Lai-Ming / Co-editor
21 June 2015